The Witches of Benevento
Benevento is a historical city located about 70km northeast of Naples, in Italy’s Campania region. Known for its Roman ruins, Catholic church, and my mother’s childhood home, the city is also remembered for its eerie legends of witches.
No, my mother does not come from a family of witches – at least I don’t think she does…
This area once focused on a Pagan temple built to worship the goddess Diana. But, as Christianity grew, the Catholics took leadership, destroyed the temple and claimed the area to be infested by the devil. It became known as Maleventum (meaning “site of bad events”), until the Romans took over and renamed it Beneventum (“site of good events”). The people of Benevento, however, had still looked to the area as a place of magic and luck, therefore continued their Pagan rituals and customs there in secret – thus the witch legends began.
Today, although Benevento has its important role with the Catholic church – it has a major seat for the Roman Catholic Archbishop. But, the city’s kooky history also makes it somewhat akin to the legendary city of Salem in Massachusetts (U.S.A.), and considered the place where witches from all over the world meet.
With this legend in mind, the creators of the “Witch City’s” most popular liqueur named their elixir Strega (meaning “witch”).
Strega is a golden liqueur used in many Italian desserts from cakes and cookies to chocolates and gelato. Its label includes images of an old lady with a broom and a circle of witches dancing around a tree under a full moon – images inspired by folklore.
If you visit Benevento, I suggest you taste a local gelato treat called Mela allo Strega (The Witch’s Apple or Apple of Strega), served specifically at the Caffè Strega. The ‘apple’ is a yellow ball of Strega flavored gelato with a core made of sponge cake soaked in the golden liqueur.
This Halloween, introduce your adult party guests to some Italian folklore by making a delicious dessert using Strega, or a fancy little cocktail like my Leone Stregato (below).
- Caffè Strega – Corso Garibaldi, 124, Benevento
NOTE: This is an updated version of an article originally posted in 2011 on a previous blog I ran called Modern Culture: Italy. The article was part of a series called Adventures in Rome. The blog no longer exists; however, I am pulling and updating some of the articles that I found to be interesting enough to have a life here on Magnusmade.com.
Il Leone Stregato
- cocktail shaker
- coupe glass
- 1½ oz. whiskey (or bourbon)
- ½ oz. Strega
- ½ oz. All Spice Dram
- ½ lemon (juiced)
- 2-3 dashes Angostura bitter
- 1 sprig rosemary
- 2 Luxardo cherries
- Pour all ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice.
- Strain into a chilled coupe glass.
- Garnish with two cherries and a sprig of rosemary.